Monday, April 30, 2012

Bi-Monthly Book Look - March/April

I think I may have set a record for fewest books I've ever read in a two month period.  I managed to finish just three books, all fiction:

Firefly Lane - Kristin Hannah

My Rating: 3 out of 5.  This novel follows the friendship of two young teenage girls through high school, college, early adulthood and into middle age.  When a single act of betrayal destroys their friendship, what can bring them back together?  This book is less melodramatic than the synopsis led me to believe and turned out to be an enjoyable read, but it wasn't very memorable.  A month after reading it, I had to review the synopsis just to remember what it was about.

Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
My Rating: 4 out of 5.
This is a work of dystopian fantasy, or as Atwood would call it, speculative fiction.  It was both fascinating and disturbing, in that the events are set in the not-so-distant future and seem at least somewhat plausible:

In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.

Oryx and Crake is the first book in the Maddaddam Trilogy, although the books don't need to be read in order.  I read the second book, The Year of the Flood, last year; it a stand-alone story that overlaps with Oryx and Crake only a bit.  I've heard the term "sidequel" used, which seems fitting in a way that neither "prequel" or "sequel" do.

The Outlaw Album - Daniel Woodrell
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
This is a book of a dozen short "Ozark noir" stories told in fewer than 200 pages by one of my favorite authors in one of my favorite genres, MO/KS/AR regional fiction.  Things aren't always what they seem, and being outside the law can look like a lot of things, from insanity to revenge, to patriotism to simple grief.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Face the Music - Railroad Earth - Bird in the House

If our garden were a child, the state would come and take it from us. I have to get outside and give it some loving attention today. While I'm out, take a listen to this.

Railroad Earth has been around for more than a decade, but I heard them for the first time just a week or so ago on the PBS show Sun Studio Sessions. I think I'm hooked.

The guy in the green ball cap is having a good time with them, too.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Special Preview of Legoland Discovery Center - Kansas City

Because Shane worked on the construction crew, we were able to attend the complimentary Contractor's Night sneak preview at Legoland Discovery Center last night.  The official opening is this Sunday.  Kansas City's Legoland is the newest of only four Legoland Discovery Centers in the US and eight around the world.

Kat is the real "legomaniac" in our family, but I have to say the entire attraction was better than I expected.  The center featured a "factory tour", a ride-through laser shooting gallery, a Duplo play area for the younger kids, a soft jungle-gym play area for the older kids, an amusement park type ride, kids' karaoke, a set of race tracks where kids (and adults) can build their own Lego cars to race, a Lego design workshop, a cinema with short films, a cafe and more. 

My favorite feature by far was the collection of replicas of Kansas City landmarks, all built with Legos, and depicted in alternating day and night scenes.  It was amazing. 

I ran out of batteries in my camera before I was able to get all the pictures I wanted, but here are several.  They will be most meaningful to readers familiar with Kansas City, but hopefully are of some interest to everyone.

Almost twins.

Factory tour.

Factory tour.

Factory tour.

She weighs the equivalent of 28,000 Legos!

Factory tour.

 A Lego tour of Kansas City:

Our new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

KC Power & Light Building, One Kansas City Place, Town Pavilion,
Sprint Center and in foreground, Union Station.

Liberty Memorial in foreground, with Union Station just behind it,
the Western Auto building to the right and the KC skyline in the background.

Crown Center fountains by night.

Crown Center fountains and Legoland!  Can you believe we're actually inside there?

Arrowhead Stadium (Chiefs) and Kauffman Stadium (Royals).  Some of the tiny fans
are waving banners, eating turkey legs, and drinking beer.

Country Club Plaza by night...
and again by day!

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, complete with shuttlecock on front lawn.

Starlight Theater by night...

and again by day!

Harry S. Truman home.

And, of course, a tribute to The Wizard of Oz:
Here comes the cyclone!
(complete with sound and wind effects)
and there goes the little house...
to fall on the Wicked Witch with the ruby red slippers.

Follow the yellow brick road!

until you finally reach the Emerald City!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Let the Garage Sales Begin!

It's garage sale season!  With the mild winter we had, they never really went away -- there were usually 1 or 2 to be found most weekends -- but last Thursday was the first day I found multiple garage sales to browse.  I think I went to about 8 or 9 of them.  Here's what I found that I "couldn't live without".

Bling-y gold flip-flops. These are so NOT me; I usually go for something more earthy.  But these were just 25¢ so I grabbed them. And I love them!

Burgundy sunflower candle pedestals.  There were three of them for $1 each, so I made them mine.  The one with the candle on top is one I already had, so now I have enough to make an arrangement or two.  Just need to find more sunflower yellow candles.  These are great decor for late summer and early autumn, but they match my living room so well that I leave them out year round.

I was a big spender at the church sale, were I found two new packages of cupcake liners for a nickel each.  They're just the basic pastel liners, but the price was right.

I also found a swimsuit  for $1 that may or may not fit Kat (didn't notice that the top and bottom weren't the same size), and a decent length of Weed Block fabric for 50¢.

Pretty good haul for less than $5.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Amazing 100% Whole Wheat Bread

I found this recipe for 100% Whole Wheat Bread recently, and since it promised to rise just as light and fluffy as white bread, I had to try it.  It ended up rising better than some white or mixed white/wheat loaves I've tried.

Free Range Mama at My Healthy Green Family wrote that she had doubled the recipe straight across, so I felt confident in halving it straight across for my first batch.  I wanted a smaller batch for my first attempt in case we didn't like it for some reason.  Next time I will probably make the 4-loaf batch and freeze a couple loaves. 

After halving the ingredients, I followed the recipe as written except that I didn't hand-knead for 15 minutes.  I have a Bosch Universal mixer, so I kneaded it in the mixer for 5 minutes.  If you are using a KitchenAid mixer, I'd suggest kneading for around 10 minutes.

I'm in the market for a grain mill so I can grind wheat at home, but until then, I use 100% white whole wheat flour made from soft white wheat. Here's my version of the recipe, which makes two loaves:

100% Whole Wheat Bread

3 cups of 100% whole wheat flour
Up to 3/4 cup of seeds (optional - I used 1 Tablespoon each of chia, sunflower and sesame seeds)
2-1/2 cups tepid water
2-1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (at room temperature; make sure it is not warm)
1 Tablespoon honey
1/2 cup lukewarm water (make sure it is not too warm)
3 Tablespoons butter, melted, then cooled to room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
Approximately 3 cups additional 100% whole wheat flour

Combine 3 cups of flour with seeds and 2-1/2 cups water in large mixing bowl or in bowl of stand mixer.  Make sure all flour is moistened.  Batter should be neither dry nor watery.  Add additional flour or water by the tablespoonful until a balanced consistency is reached.  Cover with a dish towel, or if using a Bosch mixer, attach both lids.  Let flour mix sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Melt 3 Tablespoons butter, then set it aside to cool to room temperature.

About 30 minutes before you are ready to mix and knead the dough, combine 1/4 cup warm water, 1 Tablespoon honey and 2-1/4 teaspoons dry yeast in a 2-cup measuring cup.  (Make sure you use a cup at least this large as the yeast mixture will -- hopefully -- rise and expand quite a lot.)  Give this mixture a quick stir and set it aside.

Once the flour mixture has soaked and the yeast mixture has proofed, add yeast mixture, 1/4 cup lukewarm water, the room temperature melted butter and 1 teaspoon salt to the flour mixture; mix well.  Add 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 cups of 100% whole wheat flour and combine until dough pulls away cleanly from the sides of the mixing bowl.  Knead for 5 minutes in the Bosch mixer, for approximately 10 minutes in a KitchenAid mixer, or 15 minutes by hand.  Dough should not be sticky, but should be very soft by the time you are done kneading.  I add little bits of flour as needed, but I prefer to err on the side of too little flour rather than too much.

Place kneaded dough in a large well-oiled bowl.  Cover with a damp dish towel and set to rise until double, up to 2 hours.  I placed mine inside my microwave oven and it took an hour to double.

Once dough has doubled, scrape it (and any oil that was in the bowl) onto the counter.  Punch down and knead by hand a few times.  I prefer using the oil in the bowl and on the dough to keep the dough from sticking rather than dusting the counter with additional flour that might make the dough too dry. 

Divide the dough and shape it into two loaves.  Oil your loaf pans if necessary (mine are non-stick so I don't) and place dough in pans.  Set them to rise until double, up to 2 hours.  I placed mine back in the microwave, and instead of covering them with a cloth, I placed a small bowl of warm water in with them.  They took 30 minutes to double.

When loaves have nearly doubled, heat oven to 350°F.  Once loaves have doubled, bake for approximately 40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 200°F.  Remove pans from oven and cool the bread, in the pans, on wire racks for 10 minutes.  Remove from pans and completely before slicing.

I store the loaf I am using by wrapping it in plastic and leaving it on the counter.  I double-wrap the cooled extra loaf and freeze it until needed, then thaw it on the counter top.  I find it more convenient to slice the bread before freezing it, but don't always manage to do so.

This post is being shared at the Hearth and Soul Hop with Premeditated Leftovers, at The Gathering Spot #1 with Mamal Diane, and at Delicious Dish Tuesday with Full-Time Mama.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kids and Allowance, Saving and Spending

I'm baffled why Friday's posts didn't publish as scheduled; I didn't realize it until this morning when I found I had to publish them manually.  So, today you get three from me -- the two from Friday as well as this one.


In our home we've handle Kat's allowance like this:  She received no allowance as a pre-schooler.  When she turned 5 (the summer just before Kindergarten), we decided to give her 50¢ each week.  At age 6/Grade 1, we began giving her $1 each week.  Her allowance was raised to $2 per week when she reached age7/Grade 2, and to $3/week at age 8/Grade 3.  This pattern will continue until she turns 12/Grade 7, at which time we'll review and decide if the dollar increase is going to be enough.

In addition, with each birthday, her household responsibilities (aka, chores) increase a little.  But what is a little different compared to many families is that her allowance isn't dependent upon her doing her chores.  She is expected to do chores regardless, because she is a part of the family and we all contribute.  If she balks at doing them and/or slacks off from doing them, the consequence is that she doesn't get as much screen time (TV, computer, video games) as she'd like.

She receives her allowance regardless of whether she does her chores.  We do this because we feel that the lessons she can learn about money are more important, and we want to give her the tools to learn those lessons.  When she receives her allowance each week, we go through some counting exercises and work out several hypothetical money scenarios.  From her allowance, she is required to save 10% to put in "the big bank", which is her savings account.  She's also required to save 10% to donate to charity periodically.  Since we are not a religious family, we don't tithe, but we do contribute to charity; Kat's chosen charity at the is time is the local no-kill pet shelter.

The remaining 80% of her allowance is hers to do with as she pleases.  In the summer, she often spends her allowance at garage sales.  But this past year, she has patiently saved most of her money, along with gift money she received from family members and a bit of money she earned from having me sell a couple of her toys on eBay.  Last week, she had finally saved enough for this:

It's the Pirates of the Carribean Black Pearl Lego set!  It's a big set with 804 pieces.  We've been monitoring the price, both online and at local stores, and it has fluctuated between $75 and $100 over the last year.  About 10 days ago, I found it discounted online for $84 + $5 shipping, with no sales tax.  At the same time, in a local store it was $99 + tax (about $9).  At the time, Kat had $82 dollars to spend. 

We decided it was a "teachable moment"; the $19 she would save by ordering online was a good enough lesson, in our opinion, for us to advance her the $7 she needed to make the purchase.  We explained to her how much money she would save, how she would have to "wait for her ship to come in", how she would have to give us all the cash she had saved so we could pay for it from our account, and how she would not be getting allowance for the next three weeks in order to make up for the amount we were advancing to her.  We also gave her the option of NOT ordering and waiting until she had the amount in full, but explained that by that time, the toy would very likely not be on sale anymore.  The decision was hers, and she eagerly asked us to go ahead and order it.

It arrived late last week, and it took a couple of hours to assemble completely.  I asked her if it was worth saving and waiting for, and she said it was.  I asked her if it was everything she thought it would be, and she said it was except for the size.  It was a little smaller than she thought it would be.  I asked if she was disappointed, and she said she wasn't sad about it being smaller, just surprised.

I'm proud that she saved her own money for the Lego set.  I wish someone had encouraged this for me as a child or teen.  As it was, my siblings and I didn't receive an allowance until we were teens.  We didn't have a lot of material possessions (especially not brand new ones) nor did we didn't ask for a lot, but the things we did receive were given to us.  We didn't have to save for them.  Looking back, I think that would have been a helpful lesson for us to learn.

How do you handle allowance and chores in your home?  What about the spending and saving of allowance?  And while you're at it, tell us how you handle electronics and screen time.  Do your kids have to earn it?  I'm sure you have some great ideas, so please share.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Face the Music - Levon Helm - The Mountain

I had a different song planned for today, but with Levon Helm's passing yesterday, I decided to post this one instead. It is my favorite by Helm, who was the drummer, and often the lead vocalist, for The Band.  He was also an actor,  most notably for his portrayal of Loretta Lynn's father in Coal Miner's Daughter.  He and his music will be missed.

Our First Little Harvest

If you don't count the asparagus, which is always the first food from our garden, we had our first little harvest late last week.  Here are radishes, some mixed lettuces, and more asparagus.  It doesn't look like much, but it was enough for side salad for supper one night and lunch the next day.

Also in the garden, Shane unearthed this small snake, who didn't want to be disturbed from its hibernation.  We didn't try to uncoil it, but we guessed it to be 12-14 inches long.  Not very big, but probably the biggest we've found in our yard.  It appears to be another midland brown snake (like one we found earlier this year), and is beneficial in the garden, so we moved it to warm soil away from where we were working and gently covered it with more soil so it could continue its nap.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Playing With Our Food

Shane is working out of town again. Unlike last year when he spent months working in western Kansas, this time he's just 2-3 hours away in Springfield, MO.  Remember our trip in March when we spent some time at the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield?  They are expanding, and that is were he's working, during the night while the store is closed.  He's been told the job is only for this week.  Right.  The job last year in Kansas was only supposed to have lasted two weeks, and it stretched out to most of 9 months.  It's already looking like this job will run longer, too.  Even if it does, things will work out better than last year.  This time he's close enough to drive home on the weekends.

One night before he left, we had some delicious, but ugly, Star Wars pancakes.  Those pancake forms worked about as well as I expected them to, which was not well at all.


Darth Vader or a Christmas bell?

Better results on this Storm Trooper when I used the form as a cutter.

Luke, I am your bacon!

These were made with a new-to-me pancake recipe that we really liked.  I'll be posting it sometimes soon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Walk in the Park

We spent last Sunday afternoon Geocaching and trail hiking in a great park down the highway in Harrisonville, MO.  I had been in this park before, but I didn't realize how large -- and nice -- it is.

If you don't know about Geocaching, it's a fun activity involving a hand-held GPS unit.  On the website, you can find geographic coordinates for "caches" that others have hidden.  You enter the coordinates into your GPS, then go seeking the caches.  Our GPS is an older, rather low-tech kind, which is perfect for Geocaching.  We can get just enough information to find a cache without being led right to it.  Geocaching can make a fun hike even more fun, but not all caches are hidden in the woods.  There are plenty to be found in urban areas, too.

Some caches contain little more than a roll of paper that serves as a sign-up sheet.  Kat likes a more traditional cache that contains small trinkets.  If you leave a trinket, you can take a different from the cache.

This is a fun activity for families or singles, regardless of where you live.

A dead tree (redbud, maybe) inside a live tree.

Gnarly old tree.

I think it's over there!

Not sure what she's holding up.

A girl and her walking stick. it is!

Looks like a coffee canister covered in camo.

Have a nice day!

A goofy monkey.  And a baboon, too.

We saw dozens, if not hundreds, of these.

Taking a break.

He was serious when he said he had a splitting headache.

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